First thing to do is make sure your home is still safe to occupy.
If there appears to be a lot of damage (possibly structural damage) it is probably better that you leave your residence and stay at a hotel until you can figure out a temporary living arrangement while your house is being fixed. Most insurance companies will pay for this (known as Temporary Living Expense), limiting these expenses to around 20% of the insured home value. Also, some insurance companies will only pay temporary living expenses for a certain period of time, so it is important not to procrastinate with the repairs. Some examples of covered expenses usually include: hotel/rent costs, transportation costs, restaurant bills, etc.
If the area is safe, the insurance company expects you to take reasonable steps to protect and prevent the home from further potential damage (this is called mitigation of damages). If you don’t make a reasonable effort to prevent further damage, you could accumulate additional damages which may not be covered. Be sure to check areas that are not attached to the home (i.e. guest house, sheds, garages, pools, etc.).
Example: If you don’t patch a hole on your roof or put a tarp over the damaged area, rain can cause additional damage which may not be covered.
Some temporary repairs may require you to spend money on necessary supplies or services (contractors). Just remember to keep all your receipts, as they can be submitted to the insurance company as part of your claim (called temporary repairs). However, you don’t want to spend too much money on temporary repairs, just enough to prevent further damage.
Tips for dealing with Contractors
Be sure to get a contractor with a valid license and insurance
Ask the contractor for a written estimate, outlining what work is to be done and what materials will be used (i.e. ½ inch drywall vs 5/8 drywall, nail down vs foam roof attachment system, etc.)
Get estimates from at least three contractors
Beware of contractors who have much lower prices than others. There is a good reason why they are much lower, and you don’t want to have to pay to have things done twice.
Beware of contractors who asks for a large sum of money upfront. You should pay in stages as each part is completed.
Second, after you have made efforts to prevent further damage, you should call your insurance company and find out:
A) If your damage is covered under your policy
B) What is your deductible (out of pocket costs before your insurance starts to reimburse you)
C) What is the deadline for submitting a claim.
D) If your Insurance Company tells you that you do not meet your deductible, call a public adjuster and get a second opinion. Sometimes a company adjuster may not notice all the incurred damage or they may have underestimated the repairs.
Note: Do not give a recorded statement.
Third, take inventory of damaged items and areas of your house. Don’t throw out anything!
Make sure to:
A) Take pictures (even consider making video recordings)
B) Document the damage (include any receipts you have)
C) Have the company adjuster has visited visit and recorded the damage.
It is important to have your own pictures and records, because the pictures taken by the Insurance Company Adjuster are considered the property of the insurance company (known as Work Product). If your home suffered a lot of damage and you lost your receipts or never had any records, just write down as much as you can remember. Depending on the amount and type of damage, your insurance company will send you a proof of loss form to complete or they might send a company adjuster to write an estimate.
Fourth, after you have completed the first three steps, you should call a public adjuster.
More often than not, homeowners will be unaware of hidden damage and costs. This is especially common with unrealized structural damage from water, fire, sinkholes, as well as other types of damage.